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Aug 31, 2018

Defying the Odds


Note: The following appears in the Furman gameday football program

Kelly Bryant’s football career had a normal start. He began playing football at the age of nine. He always wanted to play football and be active, and he would run around the house pretending to be on the gridiron until finally being allowed to play at the age of nine. His journey, however, has been unique.

Bryant was a highly-rated recruit at nearby Wren High School. But his path to success was rocky, as he battled Crohn’s disease, which can cause intestinal swelling, leading to blockage.

“I saw myself go from looking one way to not even being able to recognize myself when I looked in the mirror, and the amount of adversity I was placed with, having to learn how to walk again, having to wear a colonoscopy bag and also going to school was tough. It taught me to never give up. Every time I feel like I’m down, or something’s going on, I revert back to that. If I can get through that, I can get through anything.”

“It made me grow up a little, too. It showed me how quickly things can be taken from you and make sure you cherish it. It’s something I’m still battling today, so I’m doing everything I can physically and mentally to get through it.”

Bryant’s future was in doubt due to his health problems, but Clemson kept its commitment, which meant a lot to him.

“With some schools, it was questionable because I wasn’t allowed to participate in camps. They remained solid on me, on my commitment…they honored it. It made it that much more special to play for the coaches here.

“They knew what I was going through, and they stuck in there with me, and it’s like they were battling it with me. It showed me a lot about the character and the type of people they had here at Clemson, and that’s the type of people I want to be around.”

Bryant overcame his health issues to join the Tiger football team. He was a backup on the 2016 national championship squad, an experience that was surreal for Bryant.

“Just being a part of that team with all the guys, being around them…it was something you dream about as a kid. It doesn’t happen often. Being from a small town, I can go back and always say that I’m a national champion, so I really enjoy it, and it’s something I’ll always cherish when I look back on my career at Clemson.”

Bryant learned much from his time as a backup, including professionalism, communication and leadership. He finally got to apply his skills and newfound knowledge when he was named the starting quarterback for the 2017 season. Starting his first game was a “blessing” for Bryant.

“I can remember getting the opportunity Saturday right before Kent State, an early-morning game. I was sitting in my room, waiting, getting dressed, and I was crying for some reason. It was emotions and the excitement that it was finally here. It was tears of joy, and from there, I took it and ran with it and had a good year.”

The transition from backing up to starting was fast, but it also fueled him.

“Those two years (2015,16)…they really went by fast. It felt like forever during the time, but after those two years were up and those guys were gone, I had my opportunity, and I knew it wasn’t going to be given to me just because I was the older guy who was there in the room at the time. I knew I had to work my tail off, so I went to work and I competed each and every day.”

Bryant found success quickly in 2017. He had 2,802 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. He also set a school record for wins as a first-year starting quarterback (12), leading the team to an ACC championship and a College Football Playoff appearance. He was also one of 11 finalists for the Manning Award and one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award.

It was a special season for Bryant, as he believed many didn’t pick the team to have the success it had even though Bryant and the Tigers knew what they could accomplish.

“They are just honors. I’m not really an individual-type guy. It’s just based on the guys who were out there making plays. I was just doing my job, and I’m really not big on that. It’s good to get the recognition, but I also know I wouldn’t have gotten it if it wasn’t for those guys.”

Bryant and the team are hungry and looking to take advantage of opportunities entering the 2018 season after a disappointing loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in January.

“My mindset is to be better than you were a year ago. Everything you did last year, also as a team…it doesn’t matter. What you’re doing today is what’s important…making sure you get the most out of the day. We’re taking advantage of the days that we have here.”

It is clear that Bryant is ready for the 2018 season, and he is ready to build off the successes from last year. After everything Bryant has overcome, few should doubt his determination as a senior leader in 2018.